Early one Sunday morning, about twenty something years ago, I was waiting for breakfast to be served at the old Sea Breeze Bar and Restaurant in Coral Bay. The place was filling up with all kinds of salty characters, early morning drinkers, sailors, live-aboarders, Coral Bay locals and the occasional tourist. I somehow became involved in a conversation with one of the other patrons, who told me the following story:
He had sailed out of St. Thomas on his way to the Azores. He was all alone, single-handing a wooden sloop which, although quite old, was still, apparently, in excellent condition. He rode the tradewinds north and west to get to the latitudes of the prevailing westerlies, which would then carry him east across the Atlantic.
He was about 100 miles north of the Turks and Caicos, and it was clear sailing with calm seas, steady winds and fine weather. He calculated his position and determined that he was far away from any recognized shipping lanes as well as from any land, shallow reefs or other navigational hazards.
The sails were well set and he lashed the tiller down watching the boat self-steer north, northwest with no problems. He decided it would be safe to go below and take a nap.
He awoke in the night to find the boat filled with water. The seas were coming over the main deck, and it was obvious that the vessel was sinking.
What happened? He doesn’t know. Perhaps a main plank came loose, but whatever it was, there was no time to do anything but abandon ship and avoid being trapped below in the cabin.
No time to radio an SOS, he donned an ocean life vest and jumped overboard. He watched by the light of the moon as the boat sailed on ahead of him, gracefully under full sail, for about 100 yards before going under. The batteries were still functioning, and he could see the running lights and cabin lights shinning surreally under the water as the boat slowly sunk.
The life jacket, which would hold most of his body out of the water, was equipped with a flashlight, a whistle and an emergency radio beacon, none of which seemed too helpful so far from any land or commercial activity. Realizing his position, alone in the dark of night in the middle of the ocean, fright and panic set in and took over. He thought about sharks and he said he felt like a piece of bait at the end of a fishing line. He soon fainted or passed out or fell asleep.
He regained consciousness in the light of the next morning. He heard a sound; and then he saw God coming down from the sky… on a rope!
God turned out to be a United States Coast Guard lieutenant. A Coast Guard helicopter just happened to be in the area on an unusual mission. It was unusual because flights were rarely scheduled so far from the helicopter’s base of operations. The crew was just at the point of turning back when they heard the faint signal of the emergency beacon. There was scarcely enough fuel to return to their base, and there was only a short amount of time for a search and rescue mission. Luckily, the Coast Guard team managed to find and rescue the sailor and make a safe return to the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
He said that he still sailed, but only on perfect days, when there is not a cloud in the sky and never very far from the sight of land.
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